Friday, January 22, 2010

In Memoriam

Hey, everyone. It's approximately 12:38am over here, and while it's true that I've finally gotten around to writing this week's post, it's not a recap or even about any TV show, really. And it's mostly about me, me, me. But I really need to get this out, so please bear with me.

It's extremely hard to believe, but today marks the two year anniversary since Heath Ledger died. I know, it's kind of a weird one. If someone asks you in ten years' time where you were when Heath Ledger died, you'll probably have forgotten, if you haven't already. But I can't forget, because I loved Heath Ledger. He was truly my first schoolgirl crush. While the other girls were lusting after James Van Der Beek, Jonathan Taylor Thomas and whichever Backtreet Boy we still thought was straight back then, I was collecting Heath Ledger posters to proudly display on my wall. (And one of them was life-size. I still have it. You know you're jealous.) Even before he won Hollywood's heart as the sexy bad boy Patrick Verona in 10 Things I Hate About You, Heath was already making my bedroom wall. That's the frickin' Grauman's Chinese Theatre of Australia, you guys. And he took up a huge chunk of it.

I have to tell you something about that wall, though, because it's important. A number of months before Heath died, I took down all my adolescent posters. I'd been meaning to for years, but I finally got around to doing it and replacing them with pictures of my friends and concert posters and the like. I threw out every single one of those old posters...except the Heath Ledger ones. I can't explain, nor can I understand, why I kept them; I guess they really meant something to me. I know their exact whereabouts at this very moment. I'm really, really glad my inner child couldn't bear to recycle them.

I remember nearly everything about the day Heath Ledger died, including the fact that it was a Monday. (We're a day ahead in Australia.) It was registration day at my university as well, and the entire bus ride there, I'd been texting my friend about her beach-house. (It burned down. I thought that'd be the most interesting news of the day.) Anyway, as I was walking to my seminar, a stranger asked me if I had any change for the vending machine. As I was fishing through my wallet to see if I had any coins, she came up with the most random topic of conversation -- "Do you know Heath Ledger died?" Well. I did NOT know that. I had NOT heard anything like that. She said that she'd heard it on the car radio on her way to uni that morning.

My response went something like, "What? That's not true! No, that can't -- because he's going to be in -- what? I don't think that's right. No, that's not right." Eventually, I swapped my church change for her five-dollar note and went on my merry way. But I was worried now. I remember thinking that I couldn't concentrate until I knew for sure that this coin-challenged crazy lady was wrong. I texted my now beach-houseless friend again, asking her if Heath Ledger had died. She responded that she wasn't sure; she was still in bed.

I turned my phone off for my seminar, pretty confident that it couldn't be true. I even spent the entire morning with a girl I knew from high school, and didn't once mention what I'd just heard. I was that confident it wasn't true. Sure enough, though, I turned my phone back on that afternoon and there was a message from my friend, saying (something along the lines of): "He was found him in his apartment. They think it was a drug overdose." I was numb the whole way home.

I remember getting home and turning the TV on every hour to catch news updates, then quickly flicking it to another station for that network's news update. I watched every single news program I could, until I could tell when they started reusing reports. I remember Peter Mitchell beginning the six o'clock news, live from Rod Laver Arena (it was Australian Open time) with the words, "Well, it's hard to believe, but Heath Ledger is dead." I hadn't received any new information for hours, but I was glued to the TV. It upset me more than I can tell you, but I couldn't for the life of me look away. I cried that night.

That Saturday, one of the networks had a Heath-a-thon of sorts -- A Knight's Tale, followed by The Patriot. (Plenty of Foxtel channels did the same thing, but since I am without pay-TV, I had to make do with coupling these two with my well-worn 10 Things I Hate About You and Two Hands DVDs.) I'd seen A Knight's Tale five hundred times before. I was a little bit obsessed with it when it first came out. I don't want to tell you that my adolescent self wrote a poem about it, because that's so embarrassing, but I did. (It was from Geoffrey Chaucer's point of view. You can call me lame but you CANNOT call me un-creative.) I don't have it anymore, though. It perished with my old Windows 95-enabled computer. And I also don't want to tell you that after watching Ned Kelly, which was filmed in my home state, I dragged my family to every single bit of Kelly Country I could find south of the NSW/Victoria border, reading Ned Kelly books the entire car trip there. But I did. And I digress.

I'd never seen The Patriot before, because that's really not my type of movie. So I thought I'd watch it. It was pretty clear from about fifteen minutes in that Heath's character was going to die. I've seen films like this before. It's always so obvious, but since I couldn't believe that they'd put on a movie in which Heath Ledger dies, five days after he died in real life, I pressed on. Spoiler alert -- his character dies. I cried for twenty minutes. Literally, twenty minutes. I couldn't stop; I was completely distraught.

Six months later, The Dark Knight came out. Now, even before Heath had died, I was OBSESSED with this movie. I love the Batman franchise to death, even that shitty one that Arnold Schwartzenegger was in. I'd had my doubts about Heath as the Joker, too, but I remember reading an article (not long before Heath died) where Michael Caine was praising his performance. People think the hype began with Heath's death, but it was already there. It just grew stronger. I went to see TDK the day it came out like I'd always wanted to. The cinema was packed and completely silent. I was lost in this film. There were only two times I even remembered that this was Heath Ledger up there. The first is obviously when the Joker kills the mayor without his make-up on. That's a given. But the second comes towards the end of the film, where the Joker is talking to Batman about how they need one another to survive. He says, "I get the feeling you and I are destined to do this forever." Every time I hear him utter that line, it pulls me back down to Earth.

It's funny, isn't it, that this is the reaction we have when well-known people die. I mean, did I know Heath personally? No. Had I ever met him? No. And yet here I was, on numerous occasions, crying like we'd been lifelong friends. The fact that I've never really gotten over it seems utterly ridiculous to me, when I think about it. When Michael Caton honoured him at the AFI Awards that December, I cried. When he received a standing ovation after winning a Golden Globe the following year, I cried. When his family went onstage to collect his posthumous Oscar, you'd better believe that I cried. I feel so stupid saying that, but I guess that's the effect celebrities have on us. We're surrounded by them, we feel like we know them. Thanks to gossip magazines, we know intimate details of their lives, from what medication they're taking, to which brand of potato chip they prefer. When one of them dies, we miss them. We actually miss people we've never spent a single second with. Think about how ludicrous that is for a second.

I've read a couple of articles that condemn the practice of mourning celebrity deaths. These articles usually offer rational reasons why we shouldn't feel the way we feel. After all, did you know Patrick Swayze personally? Is your life going to be emptier now that you're sure Brittany Murphy isn't coming over to your place for Easter? But that's just it. It's completely irrational. There is not a single reason I can think of that logically explains why my heart hurts every time I see the words "the late Heath Ledger". It just does. I feel like a piece of my adolescence, one I so proudly displayed on my bedroom wall for all to see, is gone. Like it was never there in the first place. There is no lesson to learn from all of this, either, because it's not something we can control. It's the same reason we cry when Jack Dawson dies in Titanic. It's the same reason we celebrate along with the Empire Records gang when they get to keep their store. Whatever reason that is, it's stronger than logic.

So when I get home from work tomorrow, I'll be watching me some 10 Things and some Brokeback Mountain, and I'll probably cry. But that's okay.


  1. I was too old to sweat celebs by the time I saw Heath in "Ten Things I Hate About You." In fact, I was an editor at SuperTeen by that point and I think when that film came out, we focused more on Andrew Keegan, Larisa & Joey GL for some reason. I remember when River Phoenix died while I was in college. That hit home. I grew up watching his movies. It was so upsetting. It was so out of the blue. Most of these celeb deaths are. Like it's shocking stars with obviously probs like Courtney Love are still alive??

    Great post!

    Tales Of A Fourth Grade Nothing

  2. Poor Heath. I can't believe it's been two years. He probably would have gone on to do awesome things had he lived. His Joker really made Dark Knight.

  3. Great post.

    You're right, it IS irrational, but it doesn't make it go away. It doesn't change the fact that I sobbed when Michael Jackson died, or that I started to tear up while reading this post right now.

  4. His death was one that really hit me too, more than others. Being a fellow Perth ite orginally may have had something to do with it, but his performance in TDK was awesome. We watched it again a couple of weeks ago, not realising his anniversary was coming up.